Huge Expectation on Youngs’ Shoulders

Ben Youngs

When a young Harry Ellis and that wily old campaigner, Matt Dawson, were competing for the England scrum half berth some years ago, I recall one commentator coming down in favour of Dawson. His reasoning? Whilst Ellis had the faster car, Dawson knew the short cuts. Fast forward to Autumn 2010 and a similar debate about the number nine shirt looks unlikely. England may just have unearthed a new rugby star.

England have a fine group of young bolters to lead them into the Rugby World Cup next year. Tight head props peak in their late twenties but the world is already taking notice of the colossus that is Dan Cole at just 23. If Courtney Lawes can add to his remarkable athleticism, consistency and the hard edge that all second rows require, he too could become world class. As could the dazzling Northampton pair of Chris Ashton and Ben Foden. And, he may already be a British Lion, but Tom Croft remains a young man and has the potential to be a leading flanker in world rugby.

But it is Leicester Tiger, Ben Youngs, who may be the best of the lot. Indeed, whisper it quietly, but at 21 years of age he may just be at the start of a journey to becoming the best number nine on the planet. This November, Youngs will have his work cut out to vindicate such a statement.

All Black, Jimmy Cowan, may be up first, hardly the smoothest scrum half but tough and uncompromising. Then, Will Genia, the brilliant Australian number nine will try and upset Youngs’ rhythm. It is arguably Genia, at just 22 himself, who is likely to be Youngs’ challenger as the world’s best in the next five years. It is unfortunate that Fourie du Preez will be missing as, when fit and in form, he is the current benchmark. Indeed Youngs could do a lot worse than watch the videos of du Preez from 2007 and 2008 to watch a scrum half demonstrating imperious game management.

As for Youngs, whose family has rugby running through its veins, his potential is extraordinary. For a start he is lightning quick. Not quick like scrum halves are quick but with the sort of explosive finishing pace only wingers normally possess. Just ask the Wasps and Scarlets defences who have seen the back of him as he disappeared through gaps this season. His pass is sharp and accurate, his box kicking is clever and, possessing what appears to be confident personality, he is not shy of bossing his pack like all good number nines should.

So far so good but surely Danny Care is quick with a tidy pass? What Youngs appears to have though is that X-factor which no one can coach. Pure instinct and the ability to see the picture unfold in front of him before the other players do.

You only have to watch Thomas Waldrom’s try for the Tigers against Scarlets in the recent Heineken Cup match for evidence. Surrounded by players, Youngs made a small break, anticipated Waldrom was in support running into the gap and executed with the subtlest of dummies and perfectly timed offload. It looked a simple try but that is what good players do. Make things look simple.

At only 21, no one should presume that Youngs is the finished article. And don’t be surprised if Australia watch those sniping runs around the fringe much more closely than they did in the summer. But make no mistake, whilst Youngs’ car is seriously fast, it is starting to look like he may know the short cuts too.

By Lee Bagshaw

Photo: Onside Image/Patrick Khachfe

8 thoughts on “Huge Expectation on Youngs’ Shoulders

  1. Have to say that whilst I am very impressed with Youngs I do think Simpson is the better 9, and has more potential – shame people seem to be forgetting about him after Youngs’ performance the Oz tour. Nice position to be in though.

    Of course we have all seen the media dance before, build up a youngster then knock him down again…

  2. Youngs’ offload to Waldrom was top class. Jaw dropping offload he had no right to make. Great player, wrap him in cotton wool for two weeks Johnno!

  3. I’m a fan of Simpson as well, Nick, but I think Youngs has the edge. They are quite similar players…not huge but very nippy and with great distribution. Youngs now has slightly more experience than Simpson, which probably just gives him that edge

  4. Not sure I agree with experience giving Youngs the edge when it comes to such little time

    Simpson – 41 Wasps appearances
    Youngs – 34 Leicester appearences

    Youngs has 3 caps with, iirc, only 1 start (1 sub appearence as a wing replacement). Experience wise it is hardly anything.

    To note I have no problems with Youngs getting picked if MJ prefers him, I rate him as a player – just personally I think Simpson is the slightly better player

  5. Rolling out stats to support an argument? Play fair will you?!

    Just the experience of starting against Australia in Australia, and the confidence he’ll have after playing so well makes him a better bet against the All Blacks than Simpson for me.

  6. Was talking long term rather than specifically this AI – especially as we havent yet had word on whether Simpson will be fit or not by the Nz game.

    My point was that whilst you concentrated on Care and Genia, I think Simpson vs Youngs is far from over, and Simpson will be pushing him for that England shirt all the way

  7. Could be a battle royal over the years between these 2. Have rarely seen a young player make such an immediate impact as Simpson who has scored some amazing tries but think that Youngs may just have the tighter all round package. His pass is lightning.

  8. I’ve got a horrible feeling that Simpson has started his career with so many injuries that they will dog him for the rest of it. He’s lightning quick but his hamstrings keep giving out…once they’ve gone a couple of times they’re tough to get back to 100%.

    I hope that doesn’t prove to be correct.

    Keeping to the point of this article – Youngs is excellent and somehow you’ve made me think England have the makings of a decent squad!

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